- Black Star Rising - http://rising.blackstar.com -

Fearmongers Are Giving Photographers a Bad Name

Tweet [1]

These three photographs have something in common: They are all about fear.

They are a reminder that every day, photographers are mistaken for perverts, terrorists, thieves, and other weirdos just because of the cameras around their necks. People seem to assume that we are “up to something.”

People who really are up to something probably don’t announce it by walking around with three-pound DSLRs hanging from their necks. I don’t know of an instance in which a person was injured by having their picture taken.

In fact, it seems to me that the only people who might be hurt by having their pictures taken would be those who might be, well, up to something.

Yelling at Kids — and Photographers

Lessons in more than tennis

This photograph was shot in London. We were walking through a park for pensioners and sat down on a bench to rest. We were facing a tennis court where a very militaristic guy was trying to teach kids how to play tennis.

As he shouted instructions to them, I took a few frames and realized there was little of interest. I stopped, but the instructor must have noticed me. He started shouting at me to stop immediately or he’d have me arrested.

“It’s against the law, you know. It’s a very serious offense here,” he barked before going back to yelling at the kids.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in England about taking pictures of children in public parks.

Keeping His Belly Private

A police officer objects to a photograph.

This photo was taken in Times Square in New York.  I noticed the cop’s belly protruding from the side of the building and took a shot before he noticed me.

“No pictures!” he shouted.

“But this is Times Square,” I replied.

“Keep moving, or I will run you in!”

So I shrugged and walked away.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in New York about taking pictures of police officers.

Not-So-Public Park?

West Palm Beach skateboard Park

This picture was taken at a skateboard park in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was a public park and as I was walking by, this kid shouted at me to take his picture so I did.

I shot a few and decided to go inside and take a few more. But as I walked through the gate a young lady asked in a very officious tone what I was doing. I said I just wanted to take a few pictures.

“Are you a parent?” she asked. I said I was not; I was just a photographer doing what photographers do. She said it was forbidden for people to take pictures of the kids unless they were parents. She told me to leave.

A public park. In a city of which I am a resident and to which I pay taxes to support parks such as this.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in West Palm Beach about taking pictures in public parks.

Privacy and Photography: Where Does It End?

Over the past few years I have noticed that cameras are now forbidden in shopping malls, stores and museums. Who are we trying to protect? And what are we trying to protect them from?

I used to love taking photographs of people in museums, but that is becoming more difficult. I can understand why some museums forbid using flash, but just taking pictures is also forbidden. Some museums even insist you check your camera at the door.

There is a part of me that wants to resist, to confront, to ignore these people, but it’s simply not my style. All I can do is write about it.

Have you been confronted with this attitude? What did you do?

Tweet [1]
61 Comments (Open | Close)

61 Comments To "Fearmongers Are Giving Photographers a Bad Name"

#1 Comment By cameron On December 15, 2011 @ 12:58 am

A family day out ended up with one dad claiming he was quizzed by police under anti-terror laws.

Chris White took a photograph of his four-year-old daughter in a shopping centre.

Braehead Shopping Centre have said they have a ban on all photography on the premises.

Staff called security after seeing a man taking photographs near their counter.

#2 Comment By Jan On December 15, 2011 @ 3:33 am

"there needs to be a constant danger". The 'security racket' chooses benign acts and re interprets them with a security spin. This makes a market for their business. Equally it's difficult to prove that "the protection racket" isn't effective when nothing happens. They win until someone points out the obvious. If and when people want to hear the obvious then things might change slowly.

#3 Comment By jp dobrin On December 15, 2011 @ 3:37 am

Thank you for this. Unfortunately, I don't feel comfortable making photographs in public because of this dynamic. I don't do it as much as I would like, which sucks because I love candid street photography and making images when I'm out in the world.

I photograph mainly for work, in areas/circumstances/around people who expect me to do what I do.

It's ingrained into American's psyche that having a big professional camera means you are up to something. I completely agree and always tell others, that people who are up to something wouldn't use a 5lb huge camera. But it attracts attention in the wrong way.

I'm excited at the prospects of iphone (I personally dislike using it for photography) and more so the micro four thirds cameras coming out, which would allow for a smaller setup, appear more like a point n shoot (ie. more socially acceptable) and thus I think would be received better by ordinary folks on the street.

#4 Comment By Joanna Ballard On December 15, 2011 @ 4:41 am

there is a law in the UK several of my UK photography friends have told me about it just so you know *sigh*

Harmony and Peace

#5 Comment By cashflow On December 15, 2011 @ 8:56 am

It has reached the point where I feel sordid wandering around the streets with a camera. People tend to be on the move in cities and if you stop you are immediately 'different'. Of course a phone is OK - for now. Most security guards employed at major shopping centres and buildings do not know the rules anyway, they are just doing as instructed. Post 9/11 fear has tainted all of us.

#6 Comment By Steve On December 15, 2011 @ 10:53 am

We now have to shoot with our heads on a swivel. Not to catch the next photo op, but to see who is coming to attack us. I feel more like a target than an observer any more. It's just getting crazy out there.

#7 Comment By Milosh Kosanovich On December 15, 2011 @ 10:53 am

I have found just the opposite to be true. 10 years ago hardly anyone had a SLR hanging around their neck, and now go to a tourist area and every third person has one. As a result, many areas where I used to go and have a problem getting a big camera into, I can now enter without a second look. I'm armed with copies of laws and policies and such on my iPhone should one be needed, but I've never needed one, probably because my attitude shows through that I know my rights, and I'm not shy about it. Part of the whole equation is also discretion, I wouldn't stand there for 5 minutes shooting a cop's belly, but I might fire off a quick shot or two without him noticing. Rights are great, but common sense also goes a long way.

#8 Comment By Eric Spiegel On December 15, 2011 @ 10:57 am

Very well written. The state of public photography is terribly sad right now.

#9 Comment By Nick On December 15, 2011 @ 11:23 am

This has nothing to do with being a photographer and entirely about your ability to relate to people and the times we live in. Is it really such a surprise that police are aggressive and parents protective? I keep reading this same story and only a fraction of the time do I see a sound argument for a photographer exercising their rights. If you offend then you must try to understood why instead of casualing jumping on this bandwagon.


#10 Comment By Nicole On December 15, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

Seriously? This attitude that you should be able to do whatever you want regardless of who it makes uncomfortable gives photographers a bad name. Yes, you should be able to photograph tourist spots but it shows a fundamental lack of sensitivity to not acknowledge that most people feel very uncomfortable being photographed, especially without their permission. To say that you are out in public so they should just get over it is plain rude and serves to prove people's already poor opinions of photographers.

And kids? Seriously, it's not OK to shoot other people's kids without their permission. My partner prosecutes pedophiles and you would be floored at the # of cases thy see where the offender spent time in public photographing strange kids (often zoomed in on their crotches). It's a way for the offender to act out and fill that need for gratification, as well as a way to groom kids, test which ones could be molested and break down barriers to getting close to them. That woman was absolutely right to tell you to go away from the skate park. I don't care what your tax dollars paid for. It's every adult's job to protect kids from predators. Since predators often look like photographers I'm OK with adults looking around and calling out people who give them a creepy vibe. I'd like to think that my right to photograph doesn't rank right up there with pedophiles rights to prey on kids.

This whole post shows an enormous lack of sensitivity. I'd imagine that if you walk through the world with a "screw you I can do what I want" mentality then people pick up on it and react to it. I'd imagine that you'd get much further if you smiled, sent out a kind vibe and asked permission before taking people's pictures. And every time YOU anger or offend someone you make the world more hostile to the next photographer who comes along.

#11 Comment By David Saxe On December 15, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

Ah! I was waiting for this one. If we really want to protect our children from pedophiles, perhaps we should consider keeping them out of churches and away from their relatives and parents' friends. That would protect them from 95% of molestations. Also, there is a distinct difference between wandering the streets with a camera around your neck and aiming it up children's crotches. If anyone ever saw someone doing that, they would, or should take appropriate actions.

#12 Comment By Dave On December 15, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

How is exercising a Constitutionally protected freedom in a public place "doing whatever I want"? How am I infringing on another person's rights or privacy by taking a photograph? Why should I be lumped in with pedophiles and terrorists for engaging in an expression of art in exactly the same manner as the previous one hundred years?

Those of you who condemn photographers for practicing their craft in the public space are feeding on artificial fear and paranoia. You are allowing yourself to be manipulated and controlled by external forces rather applying a reasonable standard to reasonable behavior. If I cause you some discomfort or fear in my fully legal and morally unambiguous actions the responsibility is not mine, it is yours. YOU CHOOSE to live in fear, YOU CHOOSE to surrender your rights, YOU CHOOSE to try and infringe on my rights, but I will not surrender them. You have have sympathy, but you cannot have my freedoms.

#13 Comment By Nicole On December 15, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

Yes, I'm well aware of who molests children and realize that it is generally not the creepy photographer in the park. That doesn't make it right to offend whoever you want because you have a "right" to. Nor does it make you justified to *act* like a creepy photographer and make life harder for every photographer who comes after you.

I loved Nick's comment. I'd imagine what you're experiencing is a function of your attitude coming back at you. Maybe if you approached the world differently and maybe tried empathy instead of defensiveness you'd have a different experience.

#14 Comment By Nicole On December 15, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

As I think about this more I want to clarify. As a parent I hear a lot of stuff like "you can't let your kids go out in public in swimsuit! A sex offender might see them and get turned on!" THAT is fear mongering and I don't buy into it. You're right, looking doesn't hurt and it's really not my problem if a SA looks at my kids and gets turned on. But that is different than saying "I'm a photographer and I have a right to do what I want and I don't care who I offend."

I feel that photographing people is a huge act in psychology and a small act in technical skills. Let's take the NY cop for example. Maybe he feels ashamed of his belly. Maybe seeing a camera pointed at it caused a wave of shame to roll over him. Maybe he acted out in an angry and inappropriate way after feeling that shame. I think a truly good photographer would have recognized that and found a way to break the ice and warm him up. Talk about the city. Ask about his family. Get him relaxed and comfortable so that the picture doesn't feel shameful to him. A bad photographer (and I don't care what their technical proficiency is) doesn't recognize or care what the person behind the lens is feeling. A bad photographer just reinforced in that poor guy that photography = shame and embarrassment. It left a bad taste in his mouth and thus he's really likely to lash out at the next photographer who comes along, who had nothing at all to do with the 1st guy and who has no clue why this "jerk" cop is yelling at him.

#15 Comment By David Saxe On December 15, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

"I'm a photographer and I have a right to do what I want and I don't care who I offend."

I don't know why you can assume that I am that type of photographer. You don't know me, and you probably have never visited my web site. Presently, there is a series that I took of children, youths and older people. There is none of that "in your face photography" to be seen. Rather, I try and be invisible when I work and if I am noticed, I considerate a failure on my part. I truly consider myself a "sensitive" type of person compared to other street photographers out there. (Whose work I sometimes admire)

I am not very patient with people who think they should presume how others should act or behave. When I cross the line, I should be told but being on a public street with a camera around my neck doesn't come close. I think there is far too much political correctness and psycho-bable in our lives and less passion. I want to shift the pendulum to the passionate side and that is probably why I am a photographer.

#16 Comment By Jan On December 15, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

@Nicole you might wish to read this just so you have the legal perspective on a legal activity.


#17 Comment By Emon On December 15, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

I was just recently accosted by a man who claimed to be an instructor at ICP in New York. I was photographing the New York Public Library branch on Bryant Park and he happened to be smoking next to the building in front of large roman numerals attached to the side of the building. After I took a shot and started walking towards 5 Ave, he came out of nowhere (well, from his smoking spot) and demanded to see what I'd shot.

I'm pretty sure that he was bull*****ing me about being at ICP (am I?) but he gave me a load of crap that I legally had to share my profits if I sold that picture, whatever he thought I shot, anywhere. "It's the law, if you're a professional photographer" he kept saying. I told him ICP must have made a big mistake in hiring him because he didn't know what he was talking about. He kept saying "I do not want my picture anywhere, understand?" to which I said fine and tried to walk away. He kept getting in the way to which I almost said "f**k off or I'll call the cops on you" He proceeded to follow me around with his cellphone and snapped a picture of me. I let him and wished him luck. I'm probably on his Tumblr post somewhere.

As he was walking away I asked him his name so I could pay him a visit at ICP. He, of course, ran off saying "You'll see my face in there".

Needless to say, I paid a visit to ICP a few blocks from the location and, surprise, no face on giant banners on the walls. And no photo of him in ICP course listings.

I never followed up and sought out this dude because it would have just aggravated me more during the whole process. Instead, I let it go.

For me, I've been thinking of how to avoid all of this and it turns out to be a simpler one: have more balls and walk up and ask if I can photograph someone or some place. The 'yes' versus 'no' will vary depending on how everyone's morning started that day.

Some of us know the law and most of us think we do. I can get pissed about why most don't but the reality is, unfortunately, that it may or may not get better.

I simply avoid places, or certain type of people (you guys can read people by now, can't you?) when I'm photographing these days. I don't need the hassle. I am okay with walking away from a 'great shot' if I suspect it just might cause me problems.

Wax on. Wax off.


#18 Comment By Jason Lucas On December 15, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

Look, in the United States, generally speaking, any person has a right to take a photograph in a public place, whatever the subject matter.

This is a separate question from any individual photographer's level of sensitivity to people (s)he photographs. Should photographers be sensitive to the feelings of random passers-by? Sure. Is it legally required in a public place? No. I know we are all terrified of everything post-9/11, but if you want to restrict people's rights you have to codify it in law.

I had a security guard at a county courthouse in rural southern Ohio attempt to stop me from photographing the exterior of the courthouse from the sidewalk because of "security concerns." I told him to buzz off. Was he uncomfortable with me taking photos? Apparently. So what? I'm not required to be sensitive to his irrational fears and apparent misunderstanding of the law. He can go see a counselor on his own dime.

#19 Comment By Jesselynn On December 15, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

I agree with you to a certain extent about the paranoia towards the camera. However, I do believe that photographs are something personal. Out of sheer decency, a photographer should ask for permission before taking pictures of a stranger. How would you feel if a stranger were to take a picture of you without asking first? You could have been in the middle of a yawn, you could be having a bad hair day, you could be in a foul mood etc...and add to that the fact that you don't know where the picture might end up, it is understandable that many people would be sensitive about having their pictures taken without prior knowledge.

I was once at the airport in LA, waiting for my flight with my then boyfriend. His head was in my lap and we were resting as the flight had been delayed. All of a sudden, two photographers from a newspaper came up and took pictures of us without warning. We laughed it off, but I do remember feeling caught off-guard and really uncomfortable. They were strangers, for goodness' sake, and I'd been travelling for hours and definitely was not feeling my best. Did I yell at them? No. But did I leave feeling somewhat annoyed? Very much so.

Photography is a two-way street. I don't think it's fair to assume that someone taking pictures of your child is automatically some perv, but to be honest, I would not feel comfortable about a stranger taking pictures of my child either. What's so wrong about asking the parent or guardian for permission prior to taking the picture? I have done that a few times and the bonus with doing that is that I'll end up giving them my business card, take a few pictures of their kids, and sometimes even make a sale or two, all without the suspicious looks or angry rants from a concerned adult.

Bottomline is, no, it is not fair for people to assume that you have ulterior motives when you take their pictures, but hey, you can avoid the negative reaction by asking them nicely before taking their pictures.

#20 Comment By Bob Simrak On December 15, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

Generally I haven't had a problem. Discretion is often required. Usually, I seek to establish rapport before shooting with wild abandon.

When we are capturing images of people, I like to have their implied consent. Warm body language helps.

Often people are curious - why are you taking picture of people in public places? You a cop? Should I call a cop? These really aren't unreasonable questions if we are making people ill at ease.

If the answer is, "this is my constitutional right" I think there are lots of people who will say, "up yours!"

Whatever our style - we need to have a "good" reason to do what we do. "Good" in this sense means that it makes sense to the person who asks us.

#21 Comment By Nick On December 15, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

It saddens me, yet I stopped street photography nearly five years ago, having just returned to Europe after living 11 years in Asia.

I was shocked how paranoid I became with a camera in my hands let alone pointing it at someone who could react in a very unpleasant manner.

In Nepal where we lived people were generally happy to present themselves or their children, even proud.

Of course there were some taboos such as funerals and women washing in public, but as a guest in the country, respect for this, was part of learning about the culture.

Thanks for raising the issue, but I won't be photographing publicly any time soon -- too sensitive, I'm afraid.

Yours, Nick

#22 Comment By Paul Rattay On December 15, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

We live in an increasingly paranoid era but I refuse to buy into it. At some point, perhaps you get into trouble but if one is going to make a living or capture moments that tell a story, being overly conscious or always asking first isn't going to cut it. That said, in some cases, its appropriate to exercise caution. I'm taking the ask for forgiveness route....

#23 Comment By Jan On December 15, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

@ Joanna Ballard there are several photographers rights groups in the UK which discuss these issues. I've included a link which I hope is in the correct format to link you to a resource page for photographers in the US, Australia and the UK. The information is not complete however there is enough to provide a photographer a basic understanding of the situation in each of these jurisdictions.


#24 Comment By Dave On December 16, 2011 @ 12:20 am

I was in NYC earlier this year and had multiple cops tell me I couldn't take pictures in public places. Times Square, Lincoln Center, Grimaldi's Pizza (lol, seriously), etc. I took a shot of an officer underneath a sign and he saw me doing it, approached me and politely but firmly requested to see my pictures. He had me flip back just one shot and when it saw it wasn't a picture of another officer or anything strategic he was satisfied. I was able to talk to him about it and he explained that he was required to investigate anyone taking pictures of police or structures because they could potentially be terrorist-related. He was very friendly and I treated him with respect borne out of an understanding that he has a job to do and doesn't make the rules. At the end of the conversation we agreed that the terrorists won.

#25 Comment By Richard Lord On December 16, 2011 @ 7:22 am

Retail stores are legitimately concerned about photography because their customers might object. Also, you could be from the competition and attempting to document their displays.
ON THE OTHER HAND -- I recently found it almost impossible to do street photography in Ghana, where it had never been a problem before. The explanation was that a white (which I am) photographer had taken hundreds of images of Ghanaian women's faces and pasted them on naked bodies and posted them on line. True? Who knows. But it was enough to shut everything down. The solution -- move on. You're not going to change that fear.

#26 Comment By Chris On December 16, 2011 @ 11:42 am

I think the general public needs to be educated about our rights as photographers. We hear the police etc sometimes know our rights, but there is a large percentage of police and security who have their little power trip and ask us to move on when they have no right in doing so.
Why would a terrorist walk around and parade themselves with a decent camera around their neck when it is easy enough to use Google Earth or a mobile phone to get what they want?
There is too much paranoia in this day and age as we know and it seems to be raising fear in people.
Wouldn't it be nice to run an ad campaign in all the newspapers and on the Internet for an extended period of time explaining our rights? And let people know they can't bother us like they do.

#27 Comment By Mark Holmes On December 16, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

Let's face it, the world has changed and not just because of 9-11. In the old days, a photographer would turn up in a town, set their tripod up, and people would rush out of stores to stand proudly in front of the camera. It was a novelty.

Now, the streets are full of security cameras, you could find yourself on YouTube for doing something slightly stupid in public, or your Christmas photo could be stolen for an ad campaign, as happened to one family. People are more aware of commercial exploitation of images, and more litigious. This on top of the paranoia regarding perverts and terrorists has made the life of a street photographer much more difficult.

But, just because you have rights in law does not mean it's fine, in my opinion, to stick your camera in someone's face or take pictures covertly of people in the street. I actually think it is rude, at least, to take someone's picture without their permission. I know I don't like it when someone assumes it is ok to take my picture without ever approaching me to tell me why they are doing it. Especially if I later found my picture on the Web with some snarky caption about my belly size.

#28 Comment By Jason Lucas On December 16, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

Sigh. Whether it's "okay" or not is an ethical/moral question, not a legal question. Morally and ethically, it's possible that some iteration of "sticking your camera in someone's face" or "taking pictures covertly of people" is problematic, but that would depend on an individual's particular moral/ethical code ("personal" being the key word here).

Laws exist to bring hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions of humans - each operating largely on the basis of personal and cultural moral/ethical codes - under an umbrella of absolutes. And legally, in the United States, I can photograph anyone who is in public, no matter how they feel about it, and no matter how someone ELSE feels about it. Whether it's "okay" or not is a personal question, much like whether it's "okay" to lie to your spouse, drink alcohol every night, or call in sick to work when you're not really sick. Feeling like those things are "wrong" doesn't make them illegal, and any passerby who tried to physically stop you from playing hooky from work would be breaking the law themselves.

#29 Comment By Mark Holmes On December 16, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

@Jason: Hence "In my opinion." You can do what you want and the law should protect you.

#30 Comment By Mark Holmes On December 16, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

P.S. Not that I think the law will...

#31 Comment By Jason Lucas On December 16, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

Gotcha - and thanks for that last part. To be clear, I wasn't responding just to you - despite using pull quotes from your post. :-) My aggravation comes from the way in which many people commenting on this issue (here and elsewhere) have used their personal moral/ethical issues with some legal aspect of photography to subtly justify someone ELSE breaking the law. "Well, I can understand if the overbearing mommy at the park just pepper-sprays the photographer right in the face! After all, he didn't ask permission!" So I make it a point to clarify that distinction between moral/ethical questions and legal questions.

Justifying breaking the law because we think some other moral imperative outweighs the law is a recipe for disaster. Thanks for your clarification.

#32 Comment By Mark Holmes On December 16, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

Don't want to change this board into a discussion, but I totally agree with you on: "Justifying breaking the law because we think some other moral imperative outweighs the law is a recipe for disaster."

I think the law should protect you in whatever it says and we should respect it. Practically, these days, people do not like candid photographers and you have to realize you are taking a risk. A police officer on scene can easily take the other person's side too, as shown in the link I posted. I think of it like when I used to ride my motorcycle in traffic. The law was on my side, but I had the feeling car drivers were out to get me and I couldn't argue my case while dead!

Protected by the law or not, candid or street photography is not for me.

#33 Comment By Bob Carter On December 16, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

I have always enjoyed photography and have recently completed a photography course. With my new found skills, I have been using my DSLR to capture images of my 14 year old daughter competing at Netball. Instantly I have been made to feel like I am doing something wrong. I had two options, stop taking photos or continue. I continued taking photos and also did two additional things. I wrote to the State Netball association advising them of my rights and that I will continue taking photos. I also began to educate other interested parents of their rights to take photos.

An extremely small, but vocal group had been trying to prevent all photography, and had been dictating the rules for too long. I eventually received a letter back from the Netball Association stating that I did in fact have a right to take photos. I don't want to feel uncomfortable taking photos of my daughter competing in sport. Enough is enough, I'm not going to feel uncomfortable any more. Have camera will photograph! If you don't like it too bad.

#34 Comment By James3343 On December 16, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

Sorry, clandestine surveillance is the job of government entities and all private security contractors alone. While images of American life may give you a warm feeling inside only approved agents are allowed to describe anything that happens outside of your home. You may still publish private photos if you wish but please remember that anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the court of law.

#35 Comment By Karen McHale On December 17, 2011 @ 12:20 am

Another thing here is the male/female thing. I don't get as much crap because I am a woman and am pretty non-threatening. Who's going to question the middle-aged (ouch) red-headed woman with a camera? But men? You guys are already labeled creepy and terrorists. And, God forbid if you are a man of color! When I am questioned, many people think it's "cute." So, I pretty much get away with murder when I go out. I can sweet talk a lot of people into posing for me, I can get into places a lot of guys can't with a wink and a smile, and you wouldn't believe what a small pout can get ya! Is it fair? Nope. But it's true. Sexism is still alive and well in our fair nation.

#36 Comment By joeseph On December 17, 2011 @ 5:59 am

The "photography banned in museum" is really simple to understand - they tried the "no flash in museum" already and found it impossible to teach the 90% of clowns how to switch their flash off.

A lot of these museums have displays in really low lighing conditions and people get understandably peeved when some moron fires a flash in their face.

Much simpler to switch to a blanket "no"

#37 Comment By Wendy North On December 17, 2011 @ 6:30 am

In the UK everyone has a right to take photographs in a public place. Not everyone understands this of course. A few weeks ago my partner had a verbal altercation with an ignorant and officious individual in Barnsley bus station. The crime - taking photos of the sky and clouds through the glazed windows of the roof!

#38 Comment By Tom Chamberlain On December 17, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

I must say I have rarely felt uncomfortable with my camera in public, other than being afraid it may get stolen. I live in a smallish town. But it's not the street photography that worries me, there are discreet ways to photograph public scenes.
It's the creepy guys with cameras trolling the Internet to try to get women to be their models. These guys are really what is hurting the reputation of photographers.
I know policemen, many policemen. They just don't like their pictures taken. And as a matter of courtesy, I don't do it.
These days, pictures are forever and a photo of a cop can be dangerous to them, especially if they live in dangerous neighborhoods.
Pedophiles sit in their cars with cameras focusing on the children, trying to stay in shadows. Street photographers are just passing through looking for an interesting image of life in action.
Just my two cents.

#39 Comment By Mario Bucolo On December 18, 2011 @ 9:06 am

First of all, about museums. It depends on internal policy. For example, At MOMA and the Louvre it is possible to use cameras.
About privacy and law in Italy, the Italian professional photographers association is very active on this side and publish documents on how to operate. In Italy a sensitive target like an airport, train station, military or police installation, there is no limitation on taking pictures. Also private properties as seen from a public area. Also it is possibile to take pictures (be polite with children) of people. But they can't be published without permission if the person is recognizable. It's possible to publish crowd photos. The general concept is that if leaving the person from an image the concept and the composition doesn't change, that's possibile to use.

#40 Comment By Jj On December 18, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

Regardless of the law, if you are taking shots of my kids without my permission you are a creep. Plain and simple. Creep.
I get a kick out of everyone wanting to flaunt their "right" to be creeps.
Regardless of your ultimate use of the photo, it's unacceptable to me for my child to be the focus of your photo. Let alone the nature of your desire to capture a policeman's unfortunate belly.
If other people's kids and overweight people are your subject matter, I feel sadness for the state of your business.

#41 Comment By Eric B On December 18, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

People should be more concerned they're under constant video surveillance with face recognition linked to a global database. Unfortunately, the public lives in a perpetual state of fear and paranoia, some of it for good reason, but mostly not, that feeds on itself and no longer discerns a real threat from something benign. The irony is if you were capturing the same image with an iPhone and disseminating it directly to the net nobody would say a word.

#42 Comment By Rohn Engh On December 19, 2011 @ 1:57 am

Poetry undresses the human psyche and knows no ethical restrictions --none.
Photography has become a medium to express poetic ideas.
Street photography needs to tell what it sees without restriction --none.

#43 Comment By Lenn Long On December 19, 2011 @ 2:53 am

You can make a lot of money taking pics of Subway trains in NYC. $30,000 to be exact.


#44 Comment By Paul g newton On December 19, 2011 @ 5:39 am

I continually get kicked out of every mall and shopping center I go to. I can't make a film anywhere without being confronted by a security guard. Usual excuse for getting rid of me is copyrights of the stores in the mall It's deplorable. I told one guard that questioned me about taking photos of the buildings "if I were a terrorist I wouldn't use this DSLR I would use my phone and you would never have known." He looked at me blankly. Then I pulled up my flickr (paulgnewton if you want to search flickr for my stuff) page and showed him some of my work. He lightened up and let me continue to shoot. He was the exception to the rule.

One thing that does get me refuge from the "stranger danger" look is carrying business cards with me and giving them out to whomever is protesting. It lends credibility and they feel more comfortable with the pseudo I.D. in their hand.

#45 Comment By Richard Lord On December 19, 2011 @ 10:47 am

re Lenn Ling's comment, can we possibly get someone to edit this nonsense?

#46 Comment By Natalie On December 19, 2011 @ 11:50 am

What I find amusing (on a good day) is that the same people who rail against street photographers and their supposedly unhealthy interest in taking pictures of strangers will oooh and aaah over historical pictures of city streets (with people in them - oh how cute, look at their long dresses!) and put pics of their own half naked children on Facebook.

Trust me, Facebook is much more likely to exploit you than any street photographer.

And for the love of God stop the hypocrisy! How are we have a record of what our cities and clothes and stores and trains looked like in the past without someone photographing them in their natural environment??

#47 Comment By Lenn Long On December 19, 2011 @ 11:50 am

@Richard - Why is it nonsense? Its a perfectly illustrated example of what is going on in the world of photography today as an over-reaction response to 9/11. If you watch the video, while they are filming the story, even the news crew is hassled again by NYTransit employees. It keeps happening despite multiple memos from NYPD and NYTransit to their employees about the rights of citizens being able to photograph anything they want on public property.

Here in Charlotte, we are the nations 2nd largest banking area and "the banks" act the same way. They have security guards that have a habit of acting like they have all the authority in the world to prohibit you from taking pictures of their property or they assume that if your on top of a parking deck trying to get a skyline shot you must be a terrorist. Especially if you have a professional looking DSLR around your neck. And they also have had to issue multiple emails from upper management and police because they keep getting in trouble detaining local citizens and tourist that are doing nothing more than shooting everyday street scenes.

I would also invite you all to visit [7]
This is not just a problem in the US, it's an issue overseas too. And in Europe they are change the laws to restrict citizens rights and freedoms.

#48 Comment By Jason Lucas On December 19, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

I highly recommend Barry Glassner's incisive "A Culture Of Fear" for anyone who is interested in the psychological and sociological issues that drive this "debate." And Natalie, I think you're spot on... I shudder when I imagine a future in which the only photographic records for entire decades are posed Olan Mills family portraits and cell phone self-portraits with the dreaded kissy-face "ducklips." Oh, and quadrillions and quadrillions of hours of "security" camera footage. Yikes.

#49 Comment By Natalie On December 19, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

And almost forgot my best story: Once, on the way back from a shoot, I was flipping through my pictures on the back of my slr when a train conductor felt he had to come over to my seat (how he even saw me several rows away bent over my camera, I'll never know) and inform me that I can't take pictures on board the train. You know, just in case I was planning to or thinking about it.

#50 Comment By Ken Smith On December 20, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

I live in Mexico where there are many unwritten rules about public photography. Some rules make sense, others are just plain silly. For example, if you point your camera at a police officer or a soldier, you are likely to have an AR-15 (automatic rifle) pointed back at you with the clear message of "no fotos" because they are concerned about retribution from the cartels. However, I have also been told by an unarmed security guard in a grocery store that I could not take photos of vegetables.

I'm not in favor of ambush street photography. Unless it's a parade or a public performance, I get the subject's permission before shooting -- either by asking in the local language or by gestures. Few people object and it doesn't spoil the photo, especially if I wait a minute and they go back to what they were doing before my interruption.

I'm saving notes and clips for something I've been wanting to write about the changes and advances in photography in the past 50 years. Not so much the technology, but the social impact of photography.

A half-century ago, photography was fairly uncommon -- that is, compared to today when almost everybody has a camera or a phone capable of taking photos.

I'm interested in the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who wrote a book in the 1960s about how photography was becoming popular, something available to almost everybody. His book was titled "Un Art moyen. Essai sur les usages sociaux de la photographie". In the 1990s, it was translated into English with the title "Photography: A Middle-brow Art". I believe that English translation is a bit snooty. I would translate the title as "A Popular Art: An Essay on the Social Uses of Photography".

#51 Comment By Bert On December 20, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

For those visitors to NYC, if a cop ever stops you from taking photos in a public place, simply note his badage number - it is located on the top of his badge which will be above the chest pocket of his uniform -- and make sure that he sees you writing it down. Then spend a few minutes to file a complaint via email, if not in person about this. Because there is NO law against taking photos in public places. And every time that you allow a police officer or some pay-per-hour security guy to bother you will this nonsense, you are actually helping to encourage them. Put your foot down, be polite, but be firm, and these people will back down.

#52 Comment By oj On December 23, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

"She said it was forbidden for people to take pictures of the kids unless they were parents. She told me to leave. A public park. In a city of which I am a resident and to which I pay taxes to support parks such as this. I seriously doubt that there is a law in West Palm Beach about taking pictures in public parks."

There may not be a law, but there may be a rule in the park, since it sounds like it has a monitored entrance gate or similar. Just because somewhere is "public" does not mean it does not have rules. You can't pitch a tent in the skatepark either. If you don't like the rule, then petition to have it changed instead of whining about it because you're a "taxpayer".

#53 Comment By Neilzonwheelz On December 28, 2011 @ 11:00 am

I remember a visit to NYC a couple of years ago, behind Columbia university was a brownstone building with a sculptured relief - with some reference to a bush. At the time I thought it humorous given what President Bush was doing. I took a picture of it when a female security officer came out and started yelling for me to delete the pictures. I said no because it was in a public place, there were no signs erected to say pictures couldn't be taken. She threatened to have the police come and arrest me, I said go ahead - even though I was a visiting tourist to USA. I ambled down to Grant's tomb but never saw a police person but the experience infuriated me. If I do take any street scenes now, it is usually with a large zoom lens so I'm not in their face but I always am uncomfortable taking people pics. It is interesting to note though, I was watching a photography podcast recently and the presenter said that if a policeman asks for you to stop or delete a photo and you refuse it can leave you open to arrest for disobeying a lawful command - something to ponder.....

#54 Comment By Paul Rattay On December 28, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

Re: "If I do take any street scenes now, it is usually with a large zoom lens so I'm not in their face..."

A funny moment I had and probably indicative of the time we're in and the use of pro or pro looking equipment.

I was at the Cabo San Lucas airport waiting for my flight when the most amazing sunset began to occur straight across the runway, as we were boarding. I pulled my camera out to photograph it and security forced me to put it away. It was a Canon 7D with a Tokina 11-16 on it. As I complied, I turned to say sorry and saw not 1, not 2 but 5 others taking the same photo with point and shoots. They were not asked to put their equipment away.

I think the perception is that you are taking advantage of people or you are some sort of highly paid paparazzi (ha!) sometimes.

I was perturbed so I grabbed my camera and snapped one shot only as I boarded. This is the shot:

Wished it wasn't so rushed but what ya gonna do.

#55 Comment By n/a On December 29, 2011 @ 4:43 am

It is understandable that this is a hot topic, because the recent ubiquity of cameras and the internet is only a relatively recent phenomenon, and society has not had sufficient time to evolve to catch up. I see two distinct issues, the legal and the ethical. Legal is usually pretty clear, if you take the time to find out the laws of the country you are in. I won't discuss the legal issue, but if you want to stand up for your legal rights, you should expect to get hassled for it, just like people protesting legally might experience as well.

As for the moral and social aspect, I think that taking an image of someone is roughly equivalent to staring at them for some time. So if I take a wide angle photo of a scene in public, socially I think that is similar to standing back and looking at the scene, which no one should reasonably care about, whether there are kids in the photo, or people having an argument, or a policeman, or whatever. If however, I take a zoomed in photo of the scene or a subject, or I go and take a wider angle photo from close range, that is equivalent to standing at the location which would let my eyes see that same image, for a decent length of time. And socially, that is unacceptable for many particular subject or scenes. You would not go and stand a metre from someone's legs, or close up to someone's child, or two metres from a policeman, and stare at that scene for a minute or more, you would know society doesn't find that acceptable, although it might technically be legal. So, I like to use that parallel, even though it is not perfect. To feel morally and socially OK with what you are doing, imagine whether or not it would be OK to stand in a position with your eyes able to take in the same image that you just photographed, for a significant length of time (not just a passing glance). If society would be OK with that, you probably won't run into to many problems taking the photo.

I know that you could take a wide angle photo and simply crop in later so that it looked like a close up. But that does have some limitations, and anyway, you can't do much about that. You simply can't protect your kids or your privacy in the modern world from someone taking a 24Mpx wide angle photo from way over the street and cropping much closer later, unless of course they do it for a long time, which ought to become stalking.

#56 Comment By carl warren On January 4, 2012 @ 2:42 am

I guess it is OK for the shopping centers, Museums and other place to have cameras but not the citizen Hmm ? what going on double standards ?

#57 Comment By try On January 4, 2012 @ 6:36 am

interesting articles to read for high school students

#58 Comment By Andy On January 15, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

Jj and others of the same (small) mindset.

I suppose the photographers who took these shots were all "creeps" as well were they.

It is ignorance and small mindedness such as yours which is going to destroy many aspects of street photography and also destroy many parents enjoyment of their own childrens lives.
Because of people such as you there are now many schools, sports clubs etc which will not allow parents to record their childrens achievements.

I hope that you are well satisfied.

#59 Comment By Brian Sahagun On March 4, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

What will happen when one day people could take a real memory photograph and print it? Will there be flash lights à la "Men in Black" carried by the police? Everything in public that we can see and remember should also be free to photograph.

The one spying on you while sunbathing naked in your backyard is the Google satellite.

#60 Comment By Glenn Thompson On June 7, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

Fantastic content for reading & the photos used are very nice... Great done

#61 Comment By Danny G On May 11, 2013 @ 4:24 am

All of you can keep arguing. You folks spend so much time debating what is right or wrong to do while photographing. Meanwhile I am out in the world photographing and taking all the great photographic opportunity you have all missed.
As a photographer I have a vision, and that vision must be expressed via necessary means, photography. So keep bickering folks! I will be out photographing the magic of the world!

P.S. I believe you all miss the point of straight photography.